Cornog was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and raised in Summit, New Jersey. After high school, Cornog worked a series of menial jobs before succumbing to alcoholism, depression, drug abuse and eventual homelessness, ending up in the Hoboken train station.
During this time he met Astoria, Queens-resident Barbara Powers, and with Powers' support and label (Hell Gate), Cornog released some home-recorded cassettes and 7" singles under the name East River Pipe, which he chose after observing a sewage pipe spewing out raw waste into the East River. These initial 7" singles attracted the attention of UK-based Sarah Records who released his records from 1993 to 1996, making Cornog one of the few American artists, along with Aberdeen (band), ever signed to the label.
In the U.S., Cornog released his first LP, Shining Hours In A Can, on the Chicago-based micro-indie Ajax Records in 1994. A year later, he found a more permanent home on Merge Records, the Chapel Hill-based indie run by Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance. Also in 1995, Cornog contributed the song "Miracleland" to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Bothered produced by the Red Hot Organization. Merge released Poor Fricky (1995), Mel (1996), The Gasoline Age (1999), Shining Hours In A Can (2002;reissue), Garbageheads On Endless Stun (2003), What Are You On? (2006), and We Live In Rented Rooms (2011).
Artists who have covered East River Pipe songs include David Byrne, Lambchop, The Mountain Goats, Okkervil River, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Hazeldine, For Against, The Wisdom of Harry, Hurricane Bells, and others. The New York Times has described East River Pipe's music as "gentle, smart and unspeakably sad." Rolling Stone called Cornog "one of our generation's great eccentric songwriters."
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